A woman with blonde hair walking through an airport looking at her phone and pulling a travel suitcase behind her.

A woman at the airport reading on her phone and going on a trip.

Remember when traveling abroad, that your mobile phone and other personal communications transmit and store your personal information. This information is valuable as are the contents of your suitcase.

As an international traveler, you need to prioritize your cybersecurity to protect your personal information from potential threats. Your mobile phone and other personal communication devices contain a wealth of sensitive data, including passwords, credit card information, and personal contacts.

Just like you would lock your suitcase to prevent theft, you need to take steps to secure your digital information while traveling.

Additionally, be mindful of where you store sensitive information on your devices when traveling. Consider using password managers and encrypted messaging to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access.

Ideally you’d take travel or burner phones on your trip, rather than your personal devices, but understandably, this can be an extra expense or hassle.

Before You Go

Before you leave for your trip:

  • Ensure that all software and apps on your devices are up-to-date with the latest security patches to minimize vulnerabilities. In case of loss or theft of your devices, enable remote tracking and wiping features, so that, you can locate them or remotely erase data if necessary.
  • Enable ‘Find My Phone’ on your mobile device, so that if it gets lost or stolen you can find it.
  • Remove sensitive data from your device that you don’t need and confirm you have an antivirus software on your devices.
  • Be sure to back up your information; This includes backing up your contacts, photos, videos and other mobile device data to another device or cloud service.
  • Get in the habit of locking your devices, even if you’re only separated from them for a few minutes. It only takes a few moments for someone to steal or destroy your information. Use strong pins and passcodes for your device, along with multi-factor authentication for your apps.

Additionally, do your research about the apps you’re planning to use, including your virtual private network (VPN) and secure messengers. In some locations and regions where you’re visiting, these apps might be banned or blocked.

What to Bring

Only pack the items, documents and devices you absolutely need when traveling. Traveling light lessens the chances of things getting lost or stolen.

Bring your own chargers, cables and power bank/bricks, if possible. Packing a portable power source, so that you don’t have to worry about finding an outlet, ensures your data is safer and more secure.

Consider getting a low-cost travel or burner phone, instead of taking your personal mobile device. The same security guidance applies to these devices, but the amount of sensitive data on the device is much lower.

While You Are There

Ensure you keep all devices with you while traveling. If your device leaves your line of sight, for example, a customs agent or border officer takes your laptop or phone to another room, you can assume the device is compromised. If this happens, it’s best to obtain a new device, if possible.

If you have your phone out and are typing anything sensitive make sure no one is shoulder-surfing and reading what’s on your screen. You can get get privacy screens for most devices which makes it harder for others to peek at your conversations.

Logging out of your apps when you’re done using them helps keep your sensitive information secure. It’s harder for someone to compromise your data if you’re logged out.

Keep your phone locked when not in use. Ensure you’re using pins and passcodes over biometric data to open your phone.

Hackers can easily intercept unsecured Wi-Fi networks in airports, hotels, and cafes to steal your data or install malware on your devices. Therefore, it is important to use a virtual private network (VPN) when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks to encrypt your internet traffic and protect against cyberattacks.

USB chargers in public spaces aren’t recommended, because criminals might obtain information from your devices through the USB cable. Consider bringing your own power bank to charge your devices while traveling.

Avoid plugging your devices into a cab or rideshare car to charge, it might connect your phone or device to the car’s system without your knowledge.

When You Return

When you get home:

  • Change your passwords and pin codes on the accounts you accessed while abroad. Make sure you’re not reusing old passwords or pins.
  • Check your credit card and bank statements to ensure no unauthorized charges took place during your trip.
  • Run antivirus on your devices and remove applications and related data which you downloaded specifically for your trip.
  • Now you can share you photos and videos from your trip on social media.

Final Thoughts

Remember the steps you took when you left apply to your return. You may be questioned at a border crossing or when leaving the country. Remove any sensitive data from your phone and log out of your apps on your devices prior to heading home.

It may seem like a hassle to set up your devices for travel, but taking the time to practice good digital safety will protect your sensitive information, and you.

Keep in mind, this is general guidance and some of it may not apply to you. Be sure to consider your own threat model or risk profile, location of travel, and other factors which may impact you during your travels.

If you need a quick strategy session on secure communications and your mobile devices while traveling, you can find help here.

The guidance included in this article does not constitute legal advice and is for educational purposes only.